The Dance of Vulnerability & Protection

I know I’ve talked quite a bit about vulnerability in the past and how imperative it is in creating meaningful connection and intimacy, but I was surprised at how many responses to my recent survey circled back around to this topic. 

We know it takes courage to allow ourselves to be truly “seen” by another.  It can feel risky to speak up, show up, and be transparent with others as we move through our everyday lives.  Whether it’s initiating a conversation around sex with a spouse or asking that woman out on a date, the more “worthy” in general, that we feel, the easier it is to take the leap. Brene Brown has shared that in her research, the more “wholehearted” a person is, including having a sense of worthiness, love and belonging, the more they saw being vulnerable as simply a necessary part of relationships. 

What I want to talk about though, is a specific question that I hear repeatedly from clients and that came through in this recent survey.  It sounds something like this:

“How can I be brave enough to start being more vulnerable with (my date/partner/spouse/parent/friend/colleague) and still keep enough protection up so that I don’t get hurt?”

Just reading some form of this question over and over last week made my heart hurt. There’s not one person out there, including myself, who’s not felt this dilemma accompanied by a knot in the stomach. How can you do both? Can you be vulnerable and protected? Is it possible?

There are certainly spiritual views around this question that are helpful as we remember and embrace the “big picture”, like the fact that we really don’t have control over other people, the impermanence of all things,  the necessity of courageously being our authentic selves and letting go of the desire to seek approval or be treated well.  Let’s throw in there the belief that we can’t really be “hurt” if we don’t let someone get to us and just build up a good, strong inner resilience.

Most of that I believe. 

Really.

And as with all spiritual principles and practices, I like to start with our human selves first, so that a strong foundation can be laid, then built upon.  In other words, if you keep showing up for “shaming”, but then focus simply on the practice of letting go of the “opinion of others”, it’s going to be a tough road to hoe.  If you address instead, why you keep allowing the “shaming” conversations to happen, then a door opens to different kinds of connections, growth and inner strength.

So this week, let’s talk about some considerations as you begin to make a move toward greater vulnerability in your life:

In general, is this person a safe person to share personal things with and able to listen well?

Check point – If you are fearful of vulnerability, you may need to push yourself to be very honest here or get a trusted friend’s input. We can always find a reason to say someone might not be “safe” just because we are scared

Are you yourself, showing up as a “safe” communicator in your relationships or do you regularly fall into blaming / criticizing / guilt tripping or not honoring differences?               

Check point – It’s going to be next to impossible to risk being more vulnerable yourself, if you and the other person have a history of both showing up unpredictably. Do your own work first

Have you had a clearing conversation with anyone you’d like to be more vulnerable with in the hopes of creating more genuine intimacy? If old dynamics are in place, it’s important to discuss new ways of honoring each other BEFORE going deeper.                             

Check point – if your history with this person has not included safe, healthy conversations and sharing, then speak to that first and let the person know the vision you have.  Commit to your own change and ask straight up if this person is willing to show up in this way, too

When you’re presented with the opportunity to speak up, be seen, heard and to share authentically in the moment with someone, trust your instincts (not old fears) and leap! Regardless of what happens, you will always feel good about being in alignment with your own integrity. If it de-rails you can stop the conversation immediately.                        

Check point – sometimes we keep waiting for the “right moment” to be brave. Commit to simply starting.  Remind yourself that you are not at the mercy of anyone else’s poor behavior and that you can set boundaries immediately if real protection of the heart and soul is needed

Which brings us to those all-important “boundaries.” To be willing to fully show up in all our glory and vulnerability, we need two very important things. 

One is the mindset that embraces the fact that there is “power in vulnerability.”  Honestly.  If you question this, just think about the amount of courage it takes to let go of our fears of being judged, shunned or shamed for who we are and to be strong enough to be YOU.  That’s a power stance. 

The other, is that you must be willing and able to set clear, swift boundaries with people who do not honor you expressing yourself and who you are.  When you can do this, being vulnerable feels like a noble move, not a walk into the lion’s den. 

Next week I’ll continue with some additional thoughts on specific walls of protection and how you can practice letting them down so you can create more of the intimacy and meaningful connection that you so long for!

Let me hear your thoughts on vulnerability and this balancing act you’re working with!

Big love,   Barb